(Mild spoilers for Super Pumped will be found below.)
Start-up disasters are all the rage on TV right now and Showtime’s Super Pumped is, arguably, the biggest entry in the genre so far.
The limited series starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Uma Thurman, and Kyle Chandler recounts the early days of Uber — the ride-sharing platform destined to become a billion-dollar tech behemoth in just a few short years. Based on a best-selling book by Mike Isaac, the show chronicles the rise and fall of Silicon Valley’s prodigal son, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, whose success eventually, led him on a self-destructive path that would end with his ousting from Uber and multiple lawsuits — all narrated by Quentin Tarantino. Yes, that Quentin Tarantino.
Before the show, which premiered Feb. 27th, gets too deep into the inner-workings of tech’s once most-promising venture, let’s break down who the main players are and what’s really at stake.
What Is Super Pumped About?
The show promises eight episodes of “ripped from the headlines” drama, all focused on Kalanick and the financial powerhouses that backed him. The early days of Uber see Kalanick fighting against Silicon Valley titans to get funding for UberCab, a company he was originally brought on to in an advisory role before taking the reigns and becoming CEO. UberCab would then transform into Uber, a ride-sharing platform that partners with local operators in most major cities, receiving a commission from each booking. Kalanick employed a “work hard, play hard” attitude that resulted in numerous lawsuits being filed against the company by drivers, passengers, and employees as the company came under fire for everything from sexual harassment allegations to price-fixing, data breaches, and attempts to evade local regulations. Fans can expect the series to lean heavy into the drama happening behind the scenes with the show’s trailer promising a look into Kalanick’s psyche as his world quite literally crumbles around him.
Who Is In Super Pumped?
The Showtime series has recruited some big names to fill in for the tech titans at the center of this scandal. Levitt plays the boy-wonder-turned-Silicon-Valley-pariah, introducing Kalanick as a man with a singular vision. Kalanick would drop out of college to work for a start-up called Scour — a peer-to-peer file sharing service — that would eventually go bankrupt after a dispute with investors. In the show, Levitt’s Kalanick is suspicious of venture capitalist investors, sometimes downright hostile towards them, because of his earlier experiences. It’s what also leads the tech executive to assume an almost tyrannical level of control over the company, something that dissuades employees from speaking out against abuse and rampant mismanagement. He’s a wannabe playboy with a complicated family life and an oversized ego that seems to attract trouble.
Another major player in the game is venture capitalist Bill Gurley, an early investor in Uber who served on the company board until 2017. Played by Kyle Chandler, Gurley is a shrewd businessman and something of a pessimist — he’s not wholly convinced of Uber’s “unicorn” status but he’s willing to back Kalanick’s vision, to a point. The two men had a close working relationship that eventually soured so badly that Gurley would essentially launch a coup, leading the charge for Kalanick’s forced resignation down the line. While Chandler and Levitt will likely have contentious contact on-screen, Kalanick’s relationship with advisor and mentor Ariana Huffington (Thurman) was fairly maternal. After the death of his own mother, Huffington became an emotional support system for the embattled CEO, defending him to the press amidst numerous scandals. Thurman’s take on the female tycoon is reserved, calculating, and perhaps, a bit naive considering the faith she seems to have in the show’s de-facto villain.
Other main characters popping up throughout the season include Emil Michael (Babak Tafti), Uber’s former chief business officer; Apple CEO Tim Cook (played by Hank Azaria); and Elizabeth Shue as Kalanick’s mother, Bonnie.
Check out the trailer for Showtime’s Super Pumped below: